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Something you may not know about me is that I experience regular back pain. One reason it’s not always obvious is because I’m a very active person. People often don’t realise, because they see me doing so much, that I live with chronic pain.
I have experienced back pain of varying severity since I was about 19. While I am not entirely sure how it occurred, the only thing I can possibly narrow it down to is a minor car accident I was involved in around that time.
Over the years I have tried almost everything to help stay on top of the pain: physio, chiro, massage, acupuncture, exercise, heat therapy, topical applications. The list goes on. Nothing has managed to completely alleviate my pain however a lot of them have helped me to keep it to a manageable level most days.
For me, the best solution is to try and prevent the pain from becoming too severe by managing my day to day activities. Given that Hubby is regularly away for work, I often have to do jobs myself that I may otherwise ask him to do. With that and my background in Occupational Therapy, I have a few tips and tricks up my sleeve to help me get through the day with minimal pain and I’m hoping they might help you too.
Don’t Lift Your Kids Up
What?? I hear you say? How can I not? Depending on your pain, I’m not talking about never lifting your kids. I just recommend avoiding it wherever possible. So many times my kids come to me for a hug and it would be easy for me to grab them and lift them up. I try to remember to kneel down and give them a big squeezy cuddle when I’m kneeling or sitting on a chair or the ground.
If you do pick them up, still kneel down first so you’re using your legs, rather than your back muscles to lift them.
Invest In A Great Baby Carrier
As we all know though, kids like to be carried and sometimes it’s the only way we can get stuff done. Especially at witching hour. I found carriers like the Ergo Baby and Baby Bjorn seemed to exacerbate my pain. The straps made it feel like I was carrying a really heavy backpack. Especially with Squirt – that kid was a tank!
The day I borrowed my friend’s Hug a Bub was the day I realised how valuable a good carrier can be. The way the carrier works allowed me to feel like the kids were a part of me, instead of something I was lugging around. I used this for travelling with the kids regularly too.
Making the Bed
I usually try to get Hubby to help with this, but obviously this is not always possible. Once I lift the corner of the mattress up, I prop it on my knee to fit the sheets. The allows me to support the weight of the mattress and fit the sheets snugly over the corner without trying to hold a heavy mattress with one hand and wrestle the sheet with the other hand.
Break Up Jobs
Dinner and dishes is a killer for me. If I spend a couple of hours standing in the kitchen cooking, serving dinner, clearing away and then washing dishes, I can guarantee I will be done for the rest of the night. I prefer to break the jobs up to a number of smaller tasks where possible. As I am often home during the day, I might prep as much of the evening meal as I can around lunchtime or early afternoon. I wash dishes in small batches throughout the day or at the very least, wash whatever is dirty while I’m prepping dinner to minimise the load after dinner.
Consider using a slow cooker if you’re not home during the day. This way you can put dinner on in the morning and not have to prep at night. If you need to spend a significant period in the time preparing food, you can always perch on a bar stool or similar to help reduce your pain.
You can do the same with lots of other household tasks. Rather than vacuuming the whole house, do one or 2 rooms at a time. Clean the bath one day and the shower another.
Exercising may seem counter intuitive when you’re in pain, however, as I mentioned, this has been one of the best ways I’ve found to keep my back pain minimal. The type of exercise you can do will obviously depend on your level of pain or injury. You may wish to check with your doctor or other health professional what they advise. You could also consider working with a personal trainer who can guide you through safer options. If you decide to take a class, make sure you give the instructor a quick heads up beforehand so they can suggest alternatives for you if required.
I find that the more I exercise, the more I can tolerate. Whenever I take time out, I need to allow myself time to build back up, to reduce my risk of injury.
Most importantly be aware of your own limits. I self manage my exercise sessions even if I’m in a class. If something causes pain which doesn’t feel right (as opposed to just working hard pain), I’ll tweak the exercise I’m doing or take a moment to stretch. I have also talked to my instructors and they will often tell me to drop my weights down as they know I like to push myself. They’re usually right though, as I discover half way through the workout when I’m struggling with the reduced load!!
Moving Heavy Things
Obviously, avoid this wherever possible, however since there are times when I just need to get stuff done, I have a magic little wheeled trolley platform thingy to help with this. Hubby whipped it up to help him move our spa into place, so it is super strong. It is basically just a reinforced platform of ply with 4 wheels attached to the base of it.
It allows me to manoeuvre whatever needs moving onto it and then push it where it needs to go. Sometimes I may get a bit of help from the kids to just stop the trolley from slipping out. If it’s coming through the front door or over a step, I slide it off the trolley, lift the trolley over the step and “walk” the heavy item corner to corner over the step and then back up onto the trolley. It has saved me a number of times – and also means I don’t have to wait until Hubby gets home in a couple of days to bring my IKEA purchases in from the car!!
Doing the Washing
As mums we usually find ourselves doing the washing many times a week. Carrying those baskets and bending down to the ground then stretching to the line can really give your back a workout – and not in a good way. I always like to use a washing trolley to help prevent this. I had trouble finding one when I needed it but you can get them from Ebay if you can’t find them somewhere like Bunnings. Depending on the severity of your back pain you may actually want to bring the trolley all the way into the laundry so you don’t have to lift a heavy basket. Place the basket into the trolley empty, then load it up. This is what I had to do when I was pregnant as I couldn’t even lift a basket. When I’m not pregnant I can do a lot more.
If that’s not possible then have it waiting at the back door so you are carrying it for the shortest distance possible. If you don’t have a trolley or want to use something else, any chair or box that will raise the washing up to around waist level will do.
Since I’m such a shorty, there are times when even the stretch to the line can exacerbate my pain. If this happens, I pull out the drying rack and just hang it all on there instead. Again, using a chair or trolley to keep the basket at waist height. You could also use a clothes dryer if you prefer.
Cushions and Pillows are Your Friend
Like I just mentioned, I am not the tallest person. I find most chairs and couches are too long in the seat for me. When I sit on the couch I stack cushions behind me so I am well supported and my feet can reach the ground. I even do this when I’m visiting people because otherwise my sitting tolerance is greatly reduced.
I used a pillow at the back of my breastfeeding chair for the same reason and supported the kids on a pillow so I wasn’t holding their weight. You can buys special breastfeeding pillows or just stack regular pillows until you find a position that works for you.
In bed you can use a couple of extra pillows to help position your body more symmetrically and reduce pain. When lying on your side, place a pillow between your knees to prevent your spine rotating too far. If you’re on your back, a pillow under your knees will help take some of the pressure off your lower spine. You can use this trick if you’re getting a massage too. Just ask the therapist for an extra pillow or rolled up towel under your knees.
You may find it a little awkward the first few times you do this, especially when you roll over. Eventually you will probably get so used to it you move the pillow in your sleep as you turn.
Use a Step
This one might sound a little weird, but it can definitely help sometimes. If you need to stand for long periods of time, place one foot on a small step to help change your position and alleviate pressure and pain. Think washing dishes, ironing and some jobs.
When washing the dishes, I just open the cupboard in front and pop a foot up on the bottom shelf. If I’m ironing (which is almost never!!) I may get one of the kids stools and use that. Just make sure it’s not too high.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is outsource a task. Especially if you know that doing that task on a regular basis will have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing. You can hire someone to do your ironing – lots of people will even pick up and drop it off for you!
Consider hiring a cleaner – you can even get ones that will change your bedsheets and do other household tasks. My Dad gifted me a cleaner for the last couple of months of my pregnancy with Squirt. Hubby was in another State for 11 weeks training and I was really struggling. They washed dishes, hung out my washing and changed the sheets for me. It was an absolute Godsend.
Arrange to have prepared meals delivered or at least use a “meal box” type service where everything is planned and portioned for you to reduce preparation time.
For almost everything you need to do, there is a way to outsource it.
Chat to your GP. You may qualify for a GP Management Plan or Team Care Arrangement. This helps your doctor coordinate your care with other health professionals. It may also entitle you to some Medicare benefits to help pay for the costs of extra services. Most of all, look after yourself. Take the time to tune into what works for you and your body. Try different things and see how your body responds. Rest if you need to, the housework can wait. I know it sucks looking at it but pushing yourself past your limits usually means you need longer to recover. If you haven’t yet read “The Spoon Theory” by Christine Miserandino it may help you (and others) understand how chronic pain and task allocation works.